One way to unite the Welsh: insult them

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The Independent Online
Years and years ago I wrote a piece for a magazine called Ms London in which I collected together every stereotyped anti-Scottish prejudice known to man and produced a lopsided picture of the Scots which was intended to be not anti-Scottish but a caricature of prejudice, even down to the accusations of drunkenness and meanness.

Somewhat to my surprise, this was furiously reprinted by the organ of the Scottish National Party in, I think, Edinburgh, as an example of typical English thinking. This is what the English think of us! No wonder we're up in arms! etc, etc.

(I wrote a letter to the organ of the Scottish National Party saying that, to my surprise, one of the myths about the Scots had turned out to be true. They were mean. They had reprinted the work of an English writer without paying him for it. I therefore enclosed a small invoice, and I hope they would pay it to prove that the Scots are not, in fact, stingy and mean. I have not yet, 10 or more years later, received payment from the SNP. Either their accounts department is very slow or there is some truth in the rumour.)

So I know roughly how AN Wilson must have felt when he was publicly attacked as a racist by the Welsh Academy, who demanded that he be thrown off the Booker Prize panel as penalty for things he had said about the Welsh in the past. As nobody had any idea that AN Wilson had ever said anything about the Welsh - indeed, nobody knew that AN Wilson had ever given any sign he knew that Wales existed, in the same way that I had no idea that there was such a thing as a Welsh Academy - the Welsh Academy obligingly quoted at length the wicked words of Wilson on the Welsh. They were so enjoyable that I would like to quote a few of them too.

"The Welsh have never made any significant contribution to any branch of knowledge, culture or entertainment ... They have no architecture, no gastronomic tradition and, since the Middle Ages, no literature worthy of the name."

There seems to me to be enough truth in this to make it painful for any Welsh person to contemplate. One could add to it. One could say that the Welsh pride themselves on their intense musicality, even though it seems to amount to little more than being able to gather in large numbers and sing music written by foreigners. One could say that their musical sense is only there to compensate for their lack of visual sense and that Wales is, by nature, a magnificent country which has been diminished by almost everything that man has added to the landscape.

The one thing achieved by a cheeky bit of polemic like Wilson's is that it manages to unite the Welsh in a way that nothing else could. I can remember from my childhood in Wales, and I am often told by those who have worked with the Welsh, that the manner in which they scheme, and stab each other in the back, and engage in tribal vendettas, and engage in local corruption where necessary, and squabble generally, is wonderful to behold - certainly, the way in which the north and south of Wales are divided against each other seems to be far fiercer than in Scotland or England (though not, perhaps, Ireland).

Only an attack like Wilson's can momentarily unite the Welsh, even though it was written in idle mischief.

Or was it? Maybe there is another explanation. How about this for a scenario? Maybe AN Wilson, having agreed in a weak moment to be a Booker judge, has been trying to think of ways to get off the panel. Maybe he has good reason to be fearful. In the wake of Roddy Doyle, there will be floods of inferior Irish novels. In the wake of James Kelman and Denton Welsh, there will be floods of unreadable Scottish novels. There won't be any Welsh novels, because poor old Wales has failed to catch up with Ireland and Scotland in the fiction field, but even so there will be a pile of horrible reading to do, quite apart from the normal English rubbish. Maybe if he could resign after being accused of some heinously politically incorrect deed...!

So Wilson invents the Welsh Academy, a body not previously heard of, and through this creation accuses himself of racism, thus giving himself a good excuse to resign.

Yes, I think that must be the answer.